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Southampton arms cops with rifles in counterterrorism effort

Southampton Police Chief Steven Skrynecki talked on Monday, Aug. 7, 2017, about the town's new counterterrorism unit, a group of people within the department who have received additional training and equipment to protect themselves and the public at events. (Credit: News 12 Long Island) (Photo Credit: Newsday / Rachelle Blidner; James Carbone, John Roca, Barry Sloan)

The Southampton Town Police Department has added a counterterrorism unit to its crime-fighting efforts this summer, allowing some officers to carry rifles at Hamptons events, which will have heavier security, Chief Steven Skrynecki said Monday.

Skrynecki said about 15 officers have received special training to carry semi-automatic weapons, collect intelligence from other agencies and scan a crowd to identify who might be hiding a weapon or explosive device.

The department, which has about 100 officers, will also implement bag checks at large events, such as the annual Hampton Classic Horse Show, and set up barricades to prevent people from driving into crowds, Skrynecki said.

“We want to just be a little more cognizant for the potential of a threat,” Skrynecki said, emphasizing that the initiative is “out of an abundance of caution” and that there has not been any threat this summer.

Skrynecki said counterterrorism officers have been stationed near the entrance of some events — of which there are approximately 100 in Southampton Town every summer — in the past few weeks to deter potential terrorists from entering.

“We’re also trying to be immediately ready to take action if there was a disruption,” said Skrynecki, who took over the department reins in May.

AR-15 rifles are already in every patrol car, but only specially trained officers — who will receive quarterly rifle training instead of the usual yearly one — can carry them around. Counterterrorism officers will also be outfitted with body armor.

The Secret Service has already trained these officers to monitor crowds and spot people who may fit a terrorist profile, Skrynecki said.

The counterterrorism unit’s responsibilities include communicating with the Nassau, Suffolk and New York police departments about any “chatter” about potential threats and coordinating with the private security groups in charge of major events, Skrynecki said.

Because the unit will not need to purchase equipment, Skrynecki said he expects that the only additional costs to the department may be for advanced training and overtime pay.

Flanders resident Susan Tocci said that while “people get nervous” seeing police with rifles, she understands that officers may want them as terror attacks seem to be more common.

“Nobody wants to see police officers with rifles around, but unfortunately in this day, it does seem to be needed,” Tocci said.

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